Thanks for your support!

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Over the past few days I have received an incredible number of you asking what happened, if I am okay, and if I will be alright.  I can assure you I am.  Let me explain.

A great many of you have known me as a Microsoft contractor.  I have been for quite some time, first as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, then as a Virtual Technical Evangelist, and most recently as a member of the Server and Tools Business.  So when e-mails to my @microsoft.com account started to bounce (Tuesday this week) a lot of people expressed their concern.  I am quite touched by the outpouring of support!

I have always contracted to Microsoft through its Canadian subsidiary, Microsoft Canada.  In September of this year I accepted a contract with Rakuten, Inc – a Japanese company – that would see me spending most of my time in Tokyo.  Although we tried, there was no good way for Microsoft Canada to keep me on.  It was not done maliciously – in fact, my skip-level (my manager’s manager) did everything he could to a) keep me on, b) communicate the issues with me, and then c) accommodate my request for a timeline extension.

So let me answer some of the ‘Best Of’ questions… the ones that seem to be coing up most often.

1. Did your decision to leave Microsoft have to do with being turned down for a particular position?

No. Although over the past year I have indeed been turned down for a position, it has worked out very well for me in almost every way imaginable.  While taking that role would have been good for me, I have been able to grow in the direction I have wanted to grow.  Because of my independence I have been able to accept the consulting project I am currently working on, which is one of the mot exciting projects I have worked on in years.

2. Did you leave Microsoft because of a disagreement?

No… and yes.  I suppose in the end we disagreed on geography – my consulting role needed me to be in Japan, and Microsoft Canada would have needed me to be in Canada.  Other than that there was no disagreement whatsoever.

3. Did you leave because you did not like the direction in which the company was heading?

Not at all.  In the army I topped out at Staff Sergeant, and as such I learned quickly that some things were above my pay grade.  At Microsoft that was the case as well – I know that a lot of things are out of my control, but I also knew that whatever direction the company would take, my position (should I have elected to keep it) was safe.  Whatever decisions the company made, as a VMware Compete expert I was reasonably safe 🙂

4. Do you feel any disdain toward Microsoft, Microsoft Canada, or anyone you worked for or with?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I loved working there, and while I may have had the occasional issue with someone they were always resolved.

5. Did you leave Microsoft to work with competing technologies?

NO.  Although over the past couple of weeks I have made a habit to wear my non-Microsoft branded shirts more than usual, I have not ‘gone over’ to any other competing technology.  With that being said, I am carrying an iPhone now not because I left Microsoft… because Windows Phone 8 is not available in Japan, and this is what the company I am working for gave me.

6. Will you be going back to Microsoft?

That is a very good question. What I once thought of as my dream job no longer holds the same appeal to me.  With that being said, there are a lot of jobs at Microsoft, and should the right opportunity present itself I would be glad to go back, either for the right contract or for the right full time position.  However one thing is for certain: I no longer view Microsoft as the Holy Grail of companies.  I think they are a great company to work for, but there are a lot of other great companies out there.

7. What will you miss most about it?

I had to give this question a little thought.  My first knee-jerk reaction was the people, but then I realized that the people I got to know are still there, and are still available to me.  I am still a Microsoft MVP, a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and an influencer.  My friends are still my friends.  When it comes down to it, I suppose what I will miss most is having Lync… having the ability to call my family from Japan was a great tool!

8. Any regrets?

None at all… for the remainder of my time in Japan I will continue to work closely with Microsoft, but not with the Canadian team.  It is a really exciting project, and I would not trade it for anything.

I want to thank you all again for your concern and support, and hope to be able to continue working with you in the future!

Big in Japan…

There has been a rumour floating around that I was not happy at Microsoft Canada.  Whoever started that rumour was not me, and it could not have been further from the truth.  I have loved working with the DPE Team, I have loved almost everything about the past year.

With that being said, over the past few months I have come to the decision that my hands-on experience is getting a little long in the tooth.  I started thinking about taking on a new challenge where I could get my hands dirty again.  After all, one of the reasons I am as credible as I am is because I do have the real-world experience, and do not just live in front of a class.

A gentleman who has attended several of my sessions over the past year approached me in June and asked if I would be interested in discussing a project.  I told him what I tell most people who approach me about projects or jobs: I am always happy to listen.  We scheduled a meeting to have a cup of coffee later in the month.  That meeting turned into two and three and four, until we decided that we both wanted to do business with the other.

Knowing who this man was I was certain that whether we would be a good fit or not, it would certainly be an interesting conversation.  I was not disappointed.  The part that did surprise me though was that this opportunity was to take us both to the head office of the parent company… in Tokyo, Japan.

There is an old expression that says you should shoot for the stars, so that if you miss you will still hit the moon.  This opportunity in Japan is indeed shooting for the stars.  And so I am thrilled to announce that on September 24th I will be boarding Air Canada flight 003, Japan bound.

Unlike all of my previous overseas business trips, this is not for a week or two at a time.  I may get excited that I am going away, but I never have to write an article explaining that things will be changing.

Last week I announced that I was changing teams at Microsoft Canada.  My role there is essentially a Senior Server Champ… although that is not my title, and indeed I do not have one.  I was actually put onto that team because neither side wants to sever our connections, but I am obviously taking a bit of a hiatus from Microsoft Canada.

While this project will see me working with Microsoft Japan as well as some of the product teams in Redmond, I will not be working for them; rather, I will be working for the customer, and not representing Microsoft… for now.

I expect this blog, The World According to Mitch, will continue to thrive… but differently.  I expect that I will want to write a book about what I am doing, and not simply blog articles.

And as for the details… well, it is hard to say.  Until I get there and am told otherwise I do not intend to disclose any information about the customer I will be working for.  Will that change?  I don’t know.  In the meantime, I will be living in Tokyo, and I expect that there will be enough culture shock for me to post interesting (if slightly less technical) articles on a regular basis.  No, I do not expect to be like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, as I am going in with a much better understanding (and respect) of the culture.  That does not mean I will fit in… but here’s hoping I won’t make too much of an ass of myself!

In the meantime I will be in Redmond this week, so there just may be a technical post or two left before I leave!

What Does Being an MVP Mean to ME?

This month I will be speaking at the SMB Nation Fall Conference.  My main presentation will be on what IT will look like for small- and mid-sized businesses in what I call the ‘Post-SBS Era.’  I will be discussing Private Cloud, System Center, Virtualization, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Intune.

I have also been asked to lead a panel of Microsoft MVPs.  Topic: Open.  I can pick a topic, or I can simply open the floor to questions.  I briefly considered calling the panel ‘Whaddya mean you do it for FREE?!’ but thought better of it… however it would be fitting because MVPs do not get paid for what they do… at least not for what they do in order to be an MVP.

I have invited four other MVPs to join me on stage; until I get confirmation from all of them I will not reveal who they are.  However I tried to select people with different experiences as MVPs.  It should be an interesting time.

Over the past few days that I have been thinking about this panel I have given some thought to what it means to me.  Last week I was recognized for the seventh time (Microsoft MVPs are awarded for a period of one year, and my award date is October 1st).  I guess by now I can be considered a ‘veteran MVP,’ but I know that there are so many MVPs who have been around much longer than I have been.

In 2005 or 2006 there was an MVP Roadshow that came to Montreal; Jeff Middleton and the gang came up and after their day-long event, they agreed to do a user group event for us in the evening.  Somebody in the audience asked Jeff ‘What is expected of you as MVPs?’  I expected Jeff to start talking about speaking to user groups, answering questions in the forums and newsgroups, and whatever else.  He surprised me when he answered (not a direct quote) ‘Nothing.  The MVP Award is strictly for past contributions.  It is not a contract, and you are not actually expected to do anything further.’

It was an interesting answer, and on the surface an honest and accurate one.  It does not, however, account for the fact that if MVPs want to continue being MVPs then there are certain expectations of us.  Depending on several factors I think those expectations are not the same for all of us, but that is another topic altogether.

In November 2004 I had a conversation with a young Harp Girn who was at the time a vendor with Microsoft Canada.  He had, earlier in the evening, gotten me to volunteer to start a user group in Montreal for IT Professionals.  He made it clear to me that although he and his team would help, there wouldn’t be any direct, tangible benefits.  ‘I can’t make any promises, but a lot of user group leaders get recognized as Microsoft MVPs.’  I am not sure, but it may have been the first time I had ever heard the term.  He was right – 23 months later I did get the award.

It has been an incredible six years… My life, my career, my outlook have changed so much in that time, and who knew – a lot of that change can be traced back to the MVP Award.  Most of that indirectly of course, but a lot of the opportunities that I have been afforded over the past several years have been because I was an MVP.  Microsoft Canada has done a lot for me, and oftentimes it was because of a conversation started with the phrase ‘…do you know of any MVPs who could do this for us?’  Many of the certifications I hold (especially the Charter certs) are because Microsoft Learning sent out invites to write beta exams to… you guessed it – MVPs.

Shortly after I received the award for the first time a consulting firm asked me to do some work with them – it started as training roadshows but eventually evolved into courseware creation.  When they asked me what I knew about server virtualization I replied honestly that I knew nothing about it.  They had me learn, and that would eventually evolve into several career-changing moments, not the least of which was the opportunity to write Microsoft’s original courseware (e-learning) for Hyper-V.  That led to roadshows of course, and a company that heard about me because of the roadshow asked if I would be interested in learning VMware and then consulting and teaching it for them in Canada (and eventually internationally).  The original consulting firm that got the ball rolling on this told me point-blank that they would not have considered me had I not been a Microsoft MVP.

When the Partner team at Microsoft Canada decided to create a program called the Virtual Partner Technology Advisors, they looked for MVPs who were strong on virtualization.  That led to dozens of contracts over the course of several years, as well as the opportunity to present myself as one of the foremost VMware-compete guys in the country.

And of course, when the DPE Team at Microsoft Canada started discussing a new position called ‘Virtual Technical Evangelist’ they again looked for MVPs.

Someone asked me earlier today what I would do if I wasn’t doing what I do.  It’s a tough question and frankly I cannot fathom an answer.  I guess I need more time, but I’ll come up with something, I promise.  The question got me thinking (and not for the first time) where I would be today if I had not put my hand up to volunteer to create a local user group in Montreal, which in turn led to my eventual nomination as a Microsoft MVP.  The consequences of that single action are impossible to quantify, but let’s start with a quick list:

  • I would probably still be living in Montreal
  • I would likely have a couple of certifications… but nowhere near what I have today.
  • I would not have the vast majority of the friends I have made over the past eight years.
  • I would never have met my wife and her (now OUR) son, and we would not have had our baby.
  • It is unlikely that I would be a Black Belt
  • It is unfathomable that I would have several positions within Microsoft
  • It is highly doubtful I would have started a blog that today is read by ten thousand readers per month
  • I would never have had the opportunity to travel to 8 provinces (several times), 35 states (with many repeats), and twelve countries on behalf of companies like Microsoft and HP
  • I would never have been asked to consult on deployment projects for companies on the Fortune 15 list, nor for such organizations as the New York Police Department.

Wow… that is a simple list that took me all of five minutes to compile, but each point is easy to make the case for.  I honestly believe that had I not been awarded the Microsoft MVP way back then my life would have gone in a very different direction.  I cannot fathom what it would look like today… but it isn’t a stretch to guess that broader minds bring broader opportunities, and I would not be doing as well were I still living in Montreal servicing small business IT shops.

So while Microsoft uses the MVP Program as a thank-you for its community leaders, I expect a lot of us owe Microsoft a big thank-you back for the opportunities that have come about from our award.